The thriving, lively city of Belfast, Northern Ireland is an easily accessible destination for a family trip. It is two hours by road and rail from the Irish capital Dublin and a short flight from any regional airport in the U.K. We flew with budget airline Easyjet for just £11 each one way!
Belfast may not feature highly on many people’s radar as a weekend or short break family destination but there are lots of things to do in Belfast with kids that will surprise you.
Things to do in Belfast with kids
The Titanic museum in Belfast (called simply Titanic Belfast) may not immediately spring to mind as one of the fun things to do in Belfast.
We went because our daughter had learnt about the sinking of the Titanic in school a part of a cheery topic entitled ‘Disasters’. However, I was unsure about visiting especially with our youngest child – and as none of our children like travelling by boat!
But Titanic Belfast is a widely accoladed museum for a reason and I would highly recommend visiting with children.
What surprised me the most was how different parts of the museum engaged the children in different ways. There is something for everyone though I think the museum is more suitable for older children rather than toddlers.
Titanic Museum Exhibits
The exterior of Titanic Belfast is architecturally impressive whilst the interior exhibits are imaginatively constructed to gain – and retain – your attention. There is an engaging mix of audio and visual exhibits, recreations, actual artefacts and interactive computer information.
The RMS Titanic was one of many ships built in Belfast and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the museum is about much more than the Titanic itself. In fact, the ‘sinking’ section is only one small room.
The museum begins with a history of the Harland and Wolff shipyard and shipbuilding in Belfast. The anthropological history here, the visuals and the personal accounts of people who lived and worked here captivated our eldest child.
After a ride in a steel cage elevator (kids loved it!), you move on to an interesting section about how the Titanic was designed and built. You can look at very detailed plans for each part of the ship plus an excellent computer graphic that slowly builds the Titanic piece by piece. Our 8-year-old was fascinated by this and watched the graphic over and over again.
Disappointingly, the heralded Shipyard Ride was not operational when we visited.
The next section shows what the RMS Titanic looked like inside. There are recreated rooms from each ‘class’ and a wonderful CGI film that travels from the keel of the ship right up through the ship to the top deck passing the iconic first class staircase which has been immortalised by the ‘Titanic’ movie.
This section ends on a bright, sunny deck ‘mock-up’ with the sounds of waves and birds singing.
Then suddenly – and very effectively – the mood of the exhibit changes. The subsequent room about the sinking of the Titanic is sparsely lit and darkly decorated. All you can hear as you enter it is the Morse code ‘sos’. It is brilliantly done.
As you move through this room you read short excerpts of how the disaster unfolded and the brief biographies of some of the people who survived and died. It is surprisingly brief – with little detail about the iceberg or the actual sinking – but it is kept factual and respectful. There follows a detailed account of the inquest into the tragedy in both the U.S and the U.K and the resulting legislation which still affects ocean journeys today.
Finally, you enter an auditorium showing film footage from expeditions to the Titanic wreck site. It is memorising presentation though slightly spoiled by the irritating narration!
Under the glass floor of the auditorium, an image of the Titanic rolls slowly underneath your feet as if you were on the surface of the water looking down.
The detailed image is constructed from thousands of underwater photos. It is a spine chilling and sobering reminder of the tragic loss of 1, 503 people.
The museum ends with a section about the history of ocean exploration and what is happening today in terms of oceanography and conservation. This room interested our 11-year-old the most!
Top tip – Don’t miss the launch pad outside the museum as it will give you an idea of just how enormous the Titanic was. Take time to walk along the dockyard and around the Titanic quarter itself.
Titanic Belfast tickets and facilities
Titanic museum tickets are expensive and ideally, should be booked online in advance. It is worth visiting as a one-off attraction, especially with older children. Apart from its historical content, it is an excellent example of what museums can be, how they can attract, engage and inform a wide-ranging audience.
Facilities on site include two cafes, toilets and a shop (though I’m not sure why you would want to buy a toy Titanic boat for the bath?). Parking is available underneath the museum for a fee.
Top tip – Visit Titanic Belfast early as it gets very busy. Bring your own food and drink to enjoy outside after your visit as on-site prices are expensive.
Your Titanic Belfast ticket also allows you entry onto the SS Nomadic opposite the Titanic museum. The SS Nomadic was originally used as a tender boat in Cherbourg France to bring passengers boarding the Titanic from the shore out to the ship. It is the last White Star Line ship in the world.
There is detailed information on how the boat was used including some hands-on exhibits for children.
Our kids loved the hologram graphics where ‘real’ people told them about their jobs on the boat. We spent much longer on the SS Nomadic than we thought we would!
On the other side of the city to the Titanic Quarter is the area where you will find the Queens University Belfast, the beautiful Botanic Gardens and the Ulster Museum.
The 28-acre Botanic Gardens is a popular city spot and an ideal location to break up a day of sightseeing with kids for a picnic and a runaround.
Visit the impressive Victorian palm house and the Tropical Ravine which houses some of the world’s oldest known seed plants. Check the website for seasonal opening hours.
The Ulster Museum lies on the edge of the Botanic Gardens and has those magical words any family travelling on budget likes to read – free entry!
This excellent museum has something for everyone from jewellery to dinosaurs to Egyptian mummies. The Troubles Room depicting the complex history of Northern Ireland is a thought-provoking and moving exhibit.
Belfast City Centre
There are lots of Belfast attractions that can be visited as part of a free walking tour around the city centre.
Take a tour around the Edwardian Belfast City Hall or browse the stalls at St Georges Market. Children will particularly enjoy some of the more unusual city centre sculptures such as the 10 metre long Big Fish or The Searcher at C.S Lewis Square. (My favourite was the Beacon Of Hope).
Several tour bus companies offer ‘hop on hop off’ tours. These bus tours are a great way to see outlying sites such as the Stormont Parliament buildings or the political murals.
Top tip – Check bus tour timetables carefully; the buses stopped running very early when we visited in February. Be aware that city centre traffic is notoriously bad so it may take you longer than expected to get around by bus (or by car).
Day Trips from Belfast
Any trip to Belfast should allocate time to visit the iconic Giant’s Causeway.
It is an easy two-hour drive from Belfast on the main road or a longer, more scenic drive around the Causeway Coast route on the east coast of Antrim.
Several day tours operate from Belfast which usually includes the Carrick A Rede rope bridge and the Dark Hedges (famous from the Game Of Thrones). You can read about why we loved the Giants Causeway here.
It is also possible to do a day trip to Dublin. The Belfast to Dublin train takes just two hours and brings you directly into Dublin city centre. As I found out to my cost, tickets are much cheaper booked online in advance!
The Belfast to Dublin bus route is operated by a number of companies with regular departures throughout the day from Belfast city centre. The journey takes around 2 ½ – 3 hours and is the cheapest way to reach Dublin.
Top tip – Use the toilet at the bus station before departure. Our bus had no toilet on board which turned out to be a problem for us…
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the budget chain Holiday Inn Express.
Our room was clean, safe and included an extensive breakfast (our children’s favourite thing about staying in a hotel!). It had free parking, a reasonable on-site restaurant and was within walking distance of the Botanic Gardens. A bus stop was at the end of the road for easy access to the city centre.
Top tip – Wherever you stay in Belfast, try to stay within walking distance of what you want to see and do to avoid the need for a car whilst in the city. Many hotels and most attractions charge for parking and the city roads are confusing and congested.
There were so many things to do in Belfast with kids that we didn’t have time to do. Our visit left us wanting to return another time!
Have you been to Belfast? What fun family things would you recommend doing in Belfast?